December 20, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
29°F
test

Lorain cleared for new schools

District settles longstanding dispute with state facilities commission

LORAIN — Lorain Schools and the Ohio School Facilities Commission have settled a two-year dispute that will allow the district to build four new schools.
The facilities commission will provide 81 percent of the cost, with the remainder coming from a bond issue approved in 2001 by Lorain voters.
No money from the school district’s general fund can be used for the projects.
Plans call for construction of two new elementary schools, one of which will replace Hawthorne school; a middle school; and a high school that will replace Admiral King, said school board member Keith Lilly.
Rick Savors, spokesman for the facilities commission, said the agency is looking to hire a construction management company within 90 days. Some design work is in progress, he said.
The projects were stalled in 2005 when the school board and facilities commission fell into a dispute over the commission’s attempt to scale back the district’s master plan because of declining enrollment.
The projects originally were planned several years ago as the second phase of the district’s $215 million master plan.
The school board decided, however, that taxpayers had voted to finance a certain number of schools and it should be up to the local board and community whether to modify the master plan, not the facilities commission, Lilly said.
The board then filed suit against the facilities commission, contending it could not legally alter the plan.
“It was never our intention to build more schools than we could afford or needed. That was our right, not OSFC’s,” Lilly said Tuesday.
The suit languished in the courts, and the second phase of the master plan drifted in limbo until recently.
With a new governor — and a new head of the facilities commission — the agency agreed to put the issue aside and move forward with the Lorain project. The concession was that the district will build one fewer elementary school than it had hoped.
“We’d like to build three elementaries, but the state has other opinions,” he said. “They looked at their budget and voted to approve us for two elementaries.”
The building plan’s revival comes just weeks after the district announced it was in financial trouble — facing a $4.75 million deficit by June 30. It cut 246 teachers — nearly a third of its teaching staff, and 26 administrators to save money. More cuts are expected, school officials have said.
The money earmarked for the building plan cannot be used for operating expenses, such as paying the teachers.
During the first phase of the district’s master plan, the Gen. Johnnie Wilson and Longfellow schools were built.
Lilly said the new schools will be built on existing sites, although the current Whittier School site in south Lorain is too small.
“We think it’s important to have a school there, but the site is not big enough and we don’t have money to buy any new property. It’s a dilemma we’re going through; we’re trying to work with the city and community, and we’ll see where it goes,” Lilly said.
Lilly added the school board hasn’t yet voted on the reworked plan. He and Paul Ramos hope to meet with facilities commission representatives soon to finalize plans.
Even though the facilities commission is moving forward on its end, the school district must hire an architect, let bids and go through numerous other steps before construction can begin.
“Don’t expect to see any new schools for a year and a half or two years,” Lilly said.
Contact Bette Pearce at 329-7148 or bpearce@chroniclet.com.